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Artificial intelligence

The Download: DeepMind’s AI shortcomings, and China’s social media translation problem

Plus: Ukraine's startup employees are getting back to work

This is today's edition of The Download, our weekday newsletter that provides a daily dose of what's going on in the world of technology.

The hype around DeepMind's new AI model misses what's actually cool about it

Earlier this month, DeepMind presented a new “generalist” AI model called Gato. The model can play the video game Atari, caption images, chat, and stack blocks with a real robot arm, the Alphabet-owned AI lab announced. All in all, Gato can do hundreds of different tasks.

But while Gato is undeniably fascinating, in the week since its release some researchers have got a bit carried away.

One of DeepMind’s top researchers and a coauthor of the Gato paper, Nando de Freitas, couldn’t contain his excitement. “The game is over!” he tweeted, suggesting that there is now a clear path from Gato to artificial general intelligence, or ‘AGI’, a vague concept of human or superhuman-level AI. The way to build AGI, he claimed, is mostly a question of scale: making models such as Gato bigger and better.

Unsurprisingly, de Freitas’s announcement triggered breathless press coverage that Deepmind is “on the verge” of human-level artificial intelligence. This is not the first time hype has outstripped reality. Other exciting new AI models, such as OpenAI’s text generator GPT-3 and image generator DALL-E, have generated similar grand claims.

For many in the field, this kind of feverish discourse overshadows other important research areas in AI. Read the full story.

—Melissa Heikkilä 

The must-reads

I’ve combed the internet to find you today’s most fun/important/scary/fascinating stories about technology.

1 Volunteers are translating Chinese social media posts into English
Even though the posts have passed China’s internet censorship regime, Beijing is unhappy. (The Atlantic $)
+ WeChat wants people to use its video platform. So they did, for digital protests. (TR)

2 Ukraine’s startup community is resuming business as usual
Many workers are juggling their day jobs with after-hours war effort volunteering. (WP $)
+ Russian-speaking tech bosses living in the US are cutting ties with pro-war workers. (NYT $)
+ YouTube has taken down more than 9,000 channels linked to the war. (The Guardian)

3 The Buffalo shooting highlighted the failings of tech’s anti-terrorism accord
Critics say platforms haven’t done enough to tackle the root causes of extremism. (WSJ $)
+ America has experienced more than 3,500 mass shootings since Sandy Hook. (WP $)

4 Crypto appears to have an insider trading problem
Just like the banking system its supporters rail against. (WSJ $)
+ Christine Lagarde thinks crypto is worth “nothing.” (Bloomberg $)
+ Crypto is weathering a bitter storm. Some still hold on for dear life. (TR)
+ The crypto industry has lost around $1.5 trillion since November. (The Atlantic $)
+ Stablecoin Tether has paid out $10 billion in withdrawals since the crash started. (The Guardian)

5 The nuclear fusion industry is in turmoil
It isn’t even up and running yet, but fuel supplies are already running low. (Wired $)
+ A hole in the ground could be the future of fusion power. (TR)
+ The US midwest could be facing power grid failure this summer. (Motherboard)

6 Big Tech isn’t worried about the economic downturn
Even if it drops some of its market valuation along the way. (NYT $)
+ But lawmakers are determined to rein them in with antitrust legislation. (Recode)
+ Their carbon emissions are spiraling out of control, too. (New Yorker $)

7 The US military wants to build a flying ship
The Liberty Lifer X-plane would be independent of fixed airfields and ports. (IEEE Spectrum)

8 We need to change how we recycle plastic
The good news is that the technology to overhaul it exists—it just needs refining. (Wired $)
+ A French company is using enzymes to recycle one of the most common single-use plastics. (TR)

9 Why you should treat using your phone like drinking wine
Striking that delicate balance from stopping the positive tipping into negative. (The Guardian $)

10 Inside the wholesome world of internet knitting 🧶
Its favorite knitter’s creations have gained a cult following. (Input)
+ How a ban on pro-Trump patterns unraveled the online knitting world. (TR)

Quote of the day

“I like the instant gratification of making the internet better.”

—Jason Moore, who is credited with creating more than 50,000 Wikipedia pages, tells CNN about his motivations for taking on the unpaid work.

We can still have nice things

A place for comfort, fun and distraction in these weird times. (Got any ideas? Drop me a line or tweet 'em at me.)

+ This site that randomly directs you to a livestream with zero viewers, is fascinating.
+ The Goede Hoop Marimba Band playing Vivaldi’s Four Seasons is guaranteed to brighten up your day (Thanks Mike!)
+ Jiaqi Wang’s illustrations and animations are so fun and vibrant.
+ Why not try whipping up these classic takeaway dishes (aka fakeaways) when you want something comforting but kind of healthy?
+ A gold signet ring that’s more than 3,000 years old has been returned to its rightful home in Greece, after being stolen during World War II.
+ If you’ve been wondering what the less high-profile Harry Potter film cast members are up to, wonder no more.
+ A convincing defense of reality TV’s All-Star seasons.

Deep Dive

Artificial intelligence

What does GPT-3 “know” about me? 

Large language models are trained on troves of personal data hoovered from the internet. So I wanted to know: What does it have on me?

An AI that can design new proteins could help unlock new cures and materials 

The machine-learning tool could help researchers discover entirely new proteins not yet known to science.

DeepMind’s new chatbot uses Google searches plus humans to give better answers

The lab trained a chatbot to learn from human feedback and search the internet for information to support its claims.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose Wong

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